When I’m sitting at my favorite local wings place licking the barbecue sauce from my fingers, I’m typically not thinking about the do’s and don’ts of restaurant etiquette.
I thought a few quick reminders might be helpful just in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
Which fork or spoon to use?
It used to be that all of your silverware was laid out for you at one time. Maybe you’ve seen diagrams like this one before?
Fortunately, many restaurant servers now bring you the silverware as you need it but a helpful rule of thumb is “Start from the outside and work toward the plate saving the silverware at the top of the plate for coffee and dessert”. The only exception to that is the small butter knife that may already be on the bread plate to the side of your dinner plate.
Where to put your utensils at the end of the meal?
Ever wonder why it may seem to take forever for a server to remove your plates? It might be because there is a “signal” that many diners in upscale restaurants have forgotten to use. When you’re finished eating your meal, it is customary to place your fork and knife in a standard location which is a signal to the server that you are finished. Think of your dinner plate as a clock. Your fork and knife should be in the 4:20 time position. American diners typically put their fork facing up while European diners may place their fork facing down. This is simply because Americans hold their silverware differently than Europeans do when cutting their meat. Since both are acceptable, use the one that feels most comfortable to you.
Can I use my fingers?
Chicken wings aside, is it ever acceptable to eat with your fingers at one of these upscale establishments? Imagine for a moment, trying to eat your corn on the cob with a knife and fork. If you’re like me, it would wind up in your lap. Emily Post, one of the foremost respected authorities on etiquette suggests this list: bread, crisp bacon, pizza, hors d’oeuvres, corn on the cob, asparagus (provided it is cooked al dente and is not dripping with sauce), fried chicken (though perhaps not the breast), French fries (unless you are eating the rest of the meal with a knife and fork), and tacos (except for any filling that falls out, which you should retrieve with a fork). Got it? Just remember to use your napkin to wipe sauce or grease from your fingers. No licking!
While we know many etiquette rules have given way to a more casual lifestyle, we are often still judged for our table manners at business affairs, social functions like weddings, etc. but without practice, you might not be ready. These types of family vacations are also a great way to begin teaching children the difference between a more relaxed way of doing things at home and what to expect in more formal surroundings. They’ll certainly learn from watching their parents too!
These sorts of things used to be taught at school home economics classes and at family dinners when table settings were more formal. Want a reminder of days gone by? I have a great Emily Post video posted to my Facebook page!